Recognizing ADHD in Adults | Heather Brannon | TEDxHeritageGreen (2023)


Many people feel badly about themselves and have no idea why. They just aren’t interested in opening their mail or picking up their clothes from the floor. They feel ashamed because they believe the people around them who say they’re lazy, have a serious character flaw, or—at best—are quirky. They don’t realize that adult ADHD doesn’t look like ADHD in kids, and remaining undiagnosed can make them feel anxious, overwhelmed, and powerless.

Speaker Heather Brannon, MD, draws on 14 years of experience treating adult ADHD. A family physician who has been practicing for nearly 30 years, she realized that many patients who felt overwhelmed, anxious, easily frustrated, and tired actually had ADHD and that diagnosing it correctly and treating it was life-changing for those patients. She decided in 2014 to devote her entire practice to adolescents and adults with ADHD.

This presentation debuted during TEDxHeritageGreen 2021: TRUTH, held in three short virtual sessions on April 23, 25, and 27—visit for more info. It was a TEDx event using the TED conference format but independently organized by a local community. Learn more at A family physician who has been practicing for nearly 30 years, Heather Brannon, MD, sees adolescents and adults and is very passionate about the diagnosis and treatment of ADHD. Her interest in ADHD began when, as a primary care provider in a family practice, she realized that many patients who felt overwhelmed, anxious, easily frustrated, and tired actually had ADHD—and that diagnosing it correctly and treating it was life-changing for those patients. She decided in 2014 to devote her entire practice, Greenville ADHD Specialists, to adolescents and adults with ADHD. Heather completed her internship and residency at Womack Army Medical Center in Fort Bragg, NC, and has served as a staff physician in a combat support hospital, behavioral science curriculum coordinator, medical director of a family practice residency clinic, and chief of staff of a community hospital. This talk was given at a TEDx event using the TED conference format but independently organized by a local community. Learn more at


Transcriber:, Minh-Hung, Nguyen, Reviewer:, Hani, Eldalees, Most of the time.

When you think of somebody with ADHD, this is what you think of.


Now I’d, like for you to meet Sally., Sally is an incredibly creative person.

She has a master's in fine arts from Boston University.


The person that people at work come to if they need fresh ideas.

Sally has ADHD.

So Sally is driving down the road.

And there’s this constant conversation going on inside her head., She’s thinking.

Why did I have to look at that? Last email?, I thought it was going to take me two minutes to write a response, and 20 minutes, later, the stupid thing still isn’t written.

And, I’m, late., And I would say I’m going to do better.

Next time., But I say that every single day and nothing changes.

So, what’s the deal? And, then friends and family, people who love Sally, say, things, like, you forgot.


Could you forget? I told you 10 times., Are, you listening to me? Do.

We need to get your ears checked? Are.

You just not paying attention? Or.

How could you go to the grocery store? All? We needed was bread and milk, and you come back with a hundred and fifty dollars worth of groceries and no bread or milk.

How does that happen? So? You can see this would be a hard place to have confidence because Sally has her voice on the inside of her head, telling her she’s not doing well.

And she has voices on the outside of her head confirming it.


This makes Sally anxious.


You can imagine, a lot of adults who have ADHD feel anxious, actually, 75 percent of adults who have anxiety actually have ADHD as the cause of their anxiety.

Whether, they're anxious or not.

They know something is not right and they'll make monumental efforts to make it right., But, it's, still, not right., And, they're, usually waiting for the other shoe to drop, for everybody else to figure out they're, not as competent as they appear.


Here’s the thing.

Sally is actually competent.

So what's, going on? What's going on with ADHD? At.

Its core, ADHD is a deficiency of neurotransmitters, mainly dopamine and norepinephrine.

You need dopamine to be interested in things like what your husband is telling you to get at the grocery store; and need norepinephrine for executive functions like concept of time and prioritizing.


You need to know how much time has passed.

So you know whether you need to stop answering that email.

So you can get to your appointment.


You need to know that it's more important to get to the appointment on time than it is to finish that email today.


There are many.

Many other examples, I can give.

Now I’d like for you to meet Tom.

Tom is a people person.

He is a great friend.

He can connect with just about anybody.

Tom checks.

His mail about once a week, usually when the door of the mailbox, won’t close all the way because there’s so much mail in there.

Tom has to force himself to go get the mail, and he brings it in.

And he sets it down on the table because the mail is not interesting.


He sets to the mail down on last week’s mail and that sitting on top of mail from the week before that.

So, the mail started out being an interesting.

But then it ended up being overwhelming.

And at some point, Tom, just swept all the mail into a box and stuck the box in a closet.


It doesn’t matter that there were bills that needed to be paid because they’re not interesting until the situation becomes overwhelming.

And now the water gets turned off because Tom didn’t pay his water.



He’s interested.


This doesn’t just happen at home.

It happens at work, too., At, home.

If Tom is overwhelmed, he can just move right past it.


He doesn't have that luxury to work.


If you see Tom sitting in a meeting, he is just seething internally because he has so much that he has to do.

And these people are just wasting his time in another boring meeting., And, the problem, it’s not just the mail.

It’s, the mundane details of human existence that we all have to deal with, like going to the doctor, going to the dentist.

And people with ADHD know, they need to do them, but they're either mundane or they're, overwhelming.


You can see that neither one of those situations will get the job done.


The situation becomes so big that they have to address it.


These are people who are living their life in crisis.

All the time.

And, just think about the health implications of that, the risk of heart attack.

The high blood pressure.

The weight gain.


This doesn't just affect the person with ADHD.

It affects everybody around them, because they don't understand what's going on.


Then neither does the person with ADHD.

Nobody understands what's going on.


This is the corporate executive who has great ideas, but she's late getting your individual reviews.


This is the stay at home.

Mom, who is frantically running around all day, long.


When her husband comes home.

The house is a mess and she hasn't even started dinner.


This is a college professor who's, a great teacher.

But it takes him forever to grade his tests.


This is the husband who has to stay late at work, because he can't get any work done until everybody leaves, because that's when he can focus.

Now, here's where this gets interesting, because most people with ADHD, including Tom and Sally, are perfectionists.

What's up with that? It’s.

All about the shame.


They know what they need to do, they're, clear thinking adults, but they can’t get it done.


They have a world of people who see that they’re not getting things.

Done., They, don't, understand., They're, not aspiring to be that person.

They're, trying really hard not to be that person.


It’s not working.

In, their minds, the only way to counter the shame of not getting something done.

And then hearing about it is to do it perfectly.

So what's, the solution? That’s, the best part of this conversation, because there is a solution.

Medication helps tremendously because this is a chemical deficiency.

Sally gets her ADHD treated.

And now she can have creative thoughts without having that big swirl of ideas running around in her head.


She can look at an email and see if she has time to answer it, or she needs to save it for later.

Now, Sally can be on time for her appointment.

And that frees up the perfectionist who was trying so hard to be on time before and was failing every time.

Tom gets his ADHD treated.


He can open up the bills and pay them.

And he can sit down and read a book and remember what he read.

At work, Tom can sit quietly, as any adult would in a meeting, even though it's a really boring meeting, because he doesn't have to stimulate himself to be interested in it.

Now, the corporate executive gets her reviews done.

And she has more time for great ideas.


Stay-At-Home mom can spend time with her kids really being present with her kids because she's not frantically running around all the time.

The college, professor can help the students who are struggling, because he knows what their grades are.


The husband can come home on time and spend time with his family because he got his work done during work.


So does everybody have this? I, mean, don't.

We all feel stressed at times? Yes.

Of course, we all feel stressed.

But for some people, this is life, altering.

They, can't, move forward, and they live a life of hidden shame.


The 28 years I've been seeing patients, in my professional opinion, I think we're looking at two to three out of ten people, and that's.

A lot of people who could be feeling a whole lot better.

Thank you for your time.


Is it ADHD or am I lazy? ›

ADHD & Laziness Are Not the Same

The truth is that people with ADHD often come across as lazy because their minds move too fast. Before getting an ADHD diagnosis, people with this problem have trouble focusing. Their minds work overtime, but they have difficulty completing tasks on time.

What is ADHD in adults often misdiagnosed as? ›

Remember that depression, anxiety, PTSD, dementia, and mild cognitive impairments can be misdiagnosed as ADHD. Adult ADHD is real and of great life importance, but quite rare and easily overdiagnosed.

How do you know if you have ADHD as an adult? ›

Problems with attention, especially focusing for long periods of time or paying attention to details, is one of the hallmarks of the condition. Depression, anxiety, and addiction disorders can also take a toll on your focus, and many people with ADHD have one or more of these issues, too.

Do I have ADHD or do I just procrastinate? ›

Everyone procrastinates sometimes, but for people with ADHD, procrastination can be a particularly challenging obstacle. If you have ADHD, you may find it hard to start a new project or to stay on track once you've started. You may also find yourself delaying everyday tasks, such as doing laundry or paying bills.

What looks like ADHD but is not? ›

People with bipolar disorder appear to display ADHD symptoms during manic episodes, such as restlessness, trouble sleeping, and hyperactivity. During depressive episodes, symptoms such as lack of focus, lethargy, and inattention can also mirror those of ADHD.

How do you know if it's ADHD or something else? ›

In the attention domain, children with ADHD often show some of the following:
  1. Difficulty paying attention to details.
  2. Unable to maintain attention to the tasks at hand.
  3. Not listening when spoken to.
  4. Trouble following through on instructions.
  5. Difficulty organizing him- or herself.
Aug 20, 2018

Do people with ADHD know they are different? ›

Here is a truth that people with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD or ADD) know from an early age: If you have an ADHD nervous system, you might as well have been born on a different planet. Most adults with ADHD have always known that they think differently.

What are unusual symptoms of ADHD? ›

Atypical Presentation of ADHD Symptoms

Sleep disturbances (has trouble with sleep initiation, sleep deprived, can't wake up easily, etc.) Weak executive function (poor recall of information, internalizing language, controlling emotions, problem-solving, etc.)

What are 3 signs of ADHD in adults? ›

Some specialists have suggested the following as a list of symptoms associated with ADHD in adults:
  • carelessness and lack of attention to detail.
  • continually starting new tasks before finishing old ones.
  • poor organisational skills.
  • inability to focus or prioritise.
  • continually losing or misplacing things.
  • forgetfulness.

What does an ADHD episode feel like? ›

Symptoms of ADHD can have some overlap with symptoms of bipolar disorder. With ADHD, a child or teen may have rapid or impulsive speech, physical restlessness, trouble focusing, irritability, and, sometimes, defiant or oppositional behavior.

How do you get tested for ADHD adults? ›

Who is qualified to diagnose ADHD? For adults, an ADHD diagnostic evaluation should be conducted by a licensed mental health professional or a physician. These professionals include clinical psychologists, physicians (psychiatrist, neurologist, family doctor or other type of physician) or clinical social workers.

Is there a lazy type of ADHD? ›

No, ADHD does not cause laziness, and the latter is not an official symptom of this neurodivergent disorder. However, some symptoms might make it seem like an ADHD person is lazy.

How do you check if I have ADHD or not? ›

What Are the Signs of ADHD?
  1. have trouble listening and paying attention.
  2. need lots of reminders to do things.
  3. get distracted easily.
  4. seem absent-minded.
  5. be disorganized and lose things.
  6. not sit still, wait their turn, or be patient.
  7. rush through homework or other tasks or make careless mistakes.

Does ADHD medication help with motivation? ›

People tend to think that Ritalin and Adderall help them to focus. And they do, in some sense. But what this study shows is that they do so, in part, by increasing your cognitive motivation.

Are ADHD people messy? ›

Anyone can be messy or have those days where they just forget to pack their lunch or inexplicably find their keys in the freezer. With ADHD, though, disorganization reaches a new level. It's chronic and pervasive, often in spite of our best effort to stay organized.


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